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  • Writer's pictureRaquel Weiss Fusco

Designing for Wellbeing

So here I am, writing this from home and hoping … really, really hoping … that by the time this issue of Total Foodservice is released there is some sense of normalcy in the world again. I really didn’t want to write about the Coronavirus, eating in crisis or anything else related to the subject matter. That said, health is on all our minds right now and conveniently, before I wound up working remotely, we were at the office discussing how designing for health and wellbeing is applicable to the world of foodservice and hospitality.

Wellbeing is becoming one of the hottest buzzwords in design. With the release of numerous reports and tools from groups such as the WELL Building Institute, World Green Building Council and FitWel, it’s becoming a priority, especially when we’re collaborating with architects on corporate locations. For most of us, the technicalities are another language, but the thought process behind it is pretty incredible — interweaving physical, psychological, social and ecological research.

The first item I want to talk about is the key to our world … food! These wellness programs require the availability of fruits, vegetables and nutritional transparency where the healthiest choice is the easiest choice. And while designers don’t provide the food, there are several actions we can take to assist in meeting this goal. For example, hydroponic gardens can be specified, cafés can be designed so the salad bar is the focal point, and a juice bar’s finishes can help the produce color pop. These ideas empower the individual to make healthy choices by bringing the food to the forefront of the space.

The produce at this juice bar and hydration station add vibrant colors to a modern conceptual design.

Similarly, drinking water is a part of creating a healthy environment. How many years have we been told to drink 8 glasses a day? And, the reality is, people need to make a conscious effort to drink their water. There are even apps to remind us! While design firms can’t control the contaminant of your drinking water, there are other ways we can help achieve hydration goals. Often, we’re working with the architect, foodservice operator and client on making sure water is available throughout the building. We can specify equipment that provides filtered water, flavored water and even sparkling water on every floor, in conference rooms and all pantries.

Mental health also plays a role in how we design a space. WELL Building Institute defines it as, “a state of wellbeing where individuals can live their fullest potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to their community.” When I read this, the bells and whistles went off because it sounds extremely similar to the workplace café and multipurpose seating environments. It’s the exact reason why when a dining room is conceptualized, we include counter seating, soft seating, media tables, traditional dining and other zones into the space. These seating varieties help ensure that a team can have a working lunch, a parent can return a teacher’s phone call, colleagues can socialize, and individuals can grab a cup of coffee and read for a few minutes.

Lighting is also something that impacts our mental health. For years, studies have shown that it plays a role in our moods and can reduce symptoms of depression. When designing a foodservice environment, we’re always trying to take advantage of the natural light. One of my favorite examples of this is the design/build renovation elite|studio e did at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield in Newark, NJ. Throughout the café, designers took advantage of the views of the Hudson River and Manhattan. On a bright day, the space is flooded with sunshine and I’d bet the operator and client staff have a pep in their steps after lunch!

Natural light was a huge component to consider when designing Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield in Newark, NJ. The counters and equipment were specified and installed at a height that didn’t block the windows and the Hudson River views.

Taking advantage of outdoor space is also extremely important in terms of natural light, fresh air, mindfulness and general health. I have a feeling its something that we’ll practice even more in light of our experiences with COVID-19. From a foodservice perspective, we’ve worked with companies on creating patios or seating areas with mobile carts, pass through windows to the building exterior, outdoor kitchens and more offerings. But speaking generally for a minute, even placing benches in a courtyard can help encourage people to be outside. These spaces also provide another experience throughout the day and can help foster a sense of community — maybe the same people dine outside regularly or before work a few people meet there for yoga.

Creating a sense of community is a priority when designing for wellness. The concept of dining zones certainly helps with this, but it’s also about supporting diverse ability, mobility and encouraging people of all backgrounds to use a space. Designing for an inclusive community, isn’t only about meeting the ADA requirements to fit a wheelchair between a café pinch point or having braille wayfinding available. This concept takes the idea to the next step. Maybe your company recognizes that a particular ethnic background makes up a large part of your building population and incorporates a station serving food from that culture; or with food allergies on the rise, designating an enclosed area with safe menu options so these individuals can grab a bite and dine with colleagues. These ideas aren’t new but they’re certainly thoughts to consider achieving a community feeling in your café.

Another way to express community identity is through public art. Integrating art increases accessibility and visibility of art for the public by removing it from the traditional museum or gallery setting. It helps connect artists with the community and allows an office building to create a more personal, enriched space that feels authentic and unique to the neighborhood. Recently, members of the elite|studio e team were at a grand opening celebration in Tampa, Florida. The wall graphics were a painting created by a homeless individual in that omcmunity. The designs were enlarged to adorn the café walls and the artist was commissioned for the project. I think it was an incredible way to bring the community into this project.

There are many ways to meet the criteria for Well Building and FitWel, and some of them don’t require a new site. I’ve simply provided a starting point for the conversation about how design can help people thrive and I encourage you to learn more about it. When you consider that 90% of our time is spent in buildings, how these environments can contribute to workplace productivity, health and wellness is the logical next step in green building.

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